Saturday, December 7, 2013

Governor Grinch Tries to Steal Christmas

Apparently, there is nothing so low that Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin and his cronies would not stoop to it. But trying to deprive children of Christmas presents in order to finance his reelection campaign is beyond despicable! An email recently distributed by Friends of Scott Walker reads as follows: "This year, we are celebrating the Holiday Season with a Black Friday special that is better than any deal found in stores. Donate $5, $10, or $25 to help Governor Walker get reelected and save your children from a future of double-digit tax increases and billion dollar budget deficits. Instead of electronics or toys that will undoubtedly be outdated, broken, or lost by the next Holiday Season, help give your children the gift of a Wisconsin that we can all be proud of." <Source: the editorial page of the Racine Journal Times, December 6, 2013> It was signed by "Taylor Palmisano, Friends of Scott Walker." If her name sounds familiar, Ms. Palmisano is the former deputy campaign finance director, whom Walker threw under the bus because of "demeaning comments towards Hispanics on Twitter." Not that he and his Friends did not agree with her remarks, but they recognized that publishing what they really felt about an ethnic group that the were supposedly trying to lure "under the big tent" of the Republican Party was clearly "counter-productive."

What can I say? For one of those rare times, words fail me, except for those too vulgar or obscene to mention. In a confession of ignorance and arrogance of monumental proportions, they have unintentionally allowed us to see behind the usual curtain of propaganda and lies to reveal who they really are and what they really believe. <Remember that other peek behind the curtain when Romney proclaimed that the 47% of the American people who would vote for President Obama "no matter what" did so because they are "dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that  they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it--that that's an entitlement....These are people who pay no  income tax....[My] job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives"?> 

Make no mistake. This is who Walker, Romney, Ryan, Vos, Priebus and their cronies really are, what they truly feel in their "heart of hearts," what kind of world they want our children and grandchildren to inherit. Depriving children of Christmas gifts in order to aggrandize themselves is a microcosm of their larger program to take from the working and middle classes, in order to give to the already obscenely rich and powerful, to reduce the rest of us to drones in their malevolent dystopia.     


ld never vote Republican had been bought off by the generous benefits that       

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The FICA Fix

The Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) tax is one of the most regressive imaginable! It is also the key to preserving and expanding Social Security for all Americans. One of the most blatant lies of right-wing reactionaries is that Social Security (which they really want to "privatize) is going to bankrupt itself in the foreseeable future, unless we make substantial cuts in benefits, raise the retirement age, or perform some equally drastic operation before the sun goes down. Interestingly enough, they also insist that the cost of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and similar "entitlements" is perhaps the most drastic cause of the catastrophic explosion of federal spending and the crisis over the national debt. (That charge is especially specious because these social programs are not even part of the national budget, but are funded separately as levies under FICA.   The proceeds accrue to the Social Security Trust Fund, which, when supplemented by the revenue projected under the current system, is capable of paying full benefits until 2030, and slightly reduced benefits after that.)

The FICA levy appears as an item, totally separate and apart from the federal and state income taxes, that are deducted from paychecks. It totals 7.65% of our gross income, which is supplemented by another 7.65 % collected from employers. That combined revenue constitutes the Social Security Trust Fund. Of our individual contributions, 6.2% finances the retirement and other benefits subsumed under the Social Security Act, which was created by Congress in 1935. That act has been amended over the years to include survivor, disabled, and other benefits. The remaining 1.45% finances Medicare and Medicaid, which were enacted by Congress in 1965. Self-employed persons pay the full 7.65%, but are allowed to claim one-half of that contribution as business deductions. (It should go without saying that the current system was enacted by Congress after decades of debate and compromise and is not the result of some Utopian Ideal imposed from above by Socialists or other "social engineers.")

The regressive part is that FICA deductions financing Social Security are currently capped at 6.2% of incomes of $133,700 or $8,289.40 The $133,700 is the amount listed on line 37, Adjusted Gross Income  AGI).  That combines income from wages, taxable interest paid to you, state income tax refunds from  previous year, pensions and annuities, Social Security income, and royalties or other stipends. It also includes deductions from self-employment tax and Student Loan payments. The reverse side of the page is where taxpayers list Exemptions and Deductions in order to arrive at Federal Income Tax Owed. Needless to say, it is also the place where lawyers and accountants work their "smoke and mirrors magic," taking advantage of the myriad loopholes that they and their predecessors have inserted to subvert the intent of the progressive income tax: "THE ABILITY TO PAY" and "FROM WHATEVER SOURCE DERIVED."

Every dollar of income over $133,700 on line 37 is "FICA free." <That is not true for the 1.45% that finances Medicare and other forms of health insurance. You may remember that several potential cabinet members in 2009 were "outed" for non-payment of that amount, which they "forgot" to pay for their employees, many of whom were undocumented immigrants. But that is an entirely different "can of worms," deserving it own scrutiny.> So those of us who make less that $133,700 a year <That includes me, and, I suspect, most of you.> pay the full the full tab: 6.2 %, $8,289.40. Those who have incomes of more than $133, 700 also pay 8,289.40 in FICA, but that figure constitutes a much lower percentage of their income.  For those who make $250,000, the rate is 5.2%; for those who make 500,000, it is 2.8%; for those whose income is $1,000,000, the FICA deduction shrinks to .07% of total income. Beyond that threshold, the percentage becomes increasingly infinitesimal. Looked at from another perspective, the amount owed if the 6.2% rate were charged against the entire income of someone making $250,000 would be $15,500; for those making 500,000 it would be $31,000; for those making $1,000,000 a year it would total $62,000. For all of those citizens, the amount owed would be merely "chump change," a minor irritation approximating the annual fee, plus charges, at their country club, or the price of a second luxury car.

Obviously, FICA, as currently constituted, is absolutely regressive. It is manifestly unjust. It clearly contributes significantly to the unconscionable and unsustainable inequality that is destroying our political economy. But exactly how much government revenue does it fail to reach?   How much more could the government actually raise if the $133,700 cap were removed, and every taxpayer contributed the same 6.2% of their AGI?  With my primitive computational skills <my brother, Bob, who has a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Princeton inherited nearly all the math genes in our family> I cannot calculate that precise amount, but I can put us in the same ballpark. The total AGI in 2010 was $8,039,779,000 <yes billions>. If that entire amount had been assessed at 6.2%, the total amount of FICA contributions would have been  $498,466.91<on top of what is already in the SS Trust Fund>. That should keep the system running along smoothly for the foreseeable future. The AGI of the richest one percent of taxpayers was $1,517,146,000 <What does that say about the really rich 0.1 %?. You do the math.>. If they had been assessed the full 6.2% FICA tax, they would have paid a total of $9,466,305. The AGI of the top five percent of income receivers was $2,716,199,000. Assessed at 6.2%, that would have yielded $168,404.330. The AGI of the most affluent ten percent was $3,631, 364,000, which would have produced $2,251,445,000 in FICA contributions. (Incidentally, the AGI of that same top ten percent (13,503,349 individuals) was 45.2% of the total. These citizens also paid 70.6% of all income tax, but isn't that the whole idea of a progressive tax? The important number in income is not how much tax you pay, but how much you have leftover after you pay.

According to IRS figures, the "Income Split Point" occurs somewhere in the range between the top ten percent and the top five percent of taxpayers,The AGI threshold for inclusion in the top ten percent is $116,623; the threshold to make the top five percent is $161,579.  That range encompasses $915,615,000 of total income tax paid, and is 11.4% of total AGI and 11.6% of that group's share of income taxes. So $133,700 is somewhere within that range, which means that those closer to the ten percent threshold are assessed the full 6.2% FICA levy, while those closer to the top five percent bracket contribute less. Why the FICA cap is set at $133,700-- smack dab in the middle of that cohort--is something that I have not yet been able to discover. $133,700 is obviously closer--by $17,077--to the ten percent threshold of $116,623 than to the five percent threshold of $161,579, but that doesn't tell us why that particular cap was chosen, let alone how much potential FICA revenue is lost in the process. That figure, of course, is in addition to the more than the ten million dollars already lost by not including the top five percent. 

Of course, the most accurate way to calculate how much additional revenue would go into the Social Security Trust Fund each year if there were no "cap" on the amount levied by FICA. To do that, we would have to know the exact number of people with AGIs in excess of $133,700, and the total amount of their Adjusted Gross Incomes. Even if we could, however, it would do very little to alter the big picture. The easiest, fairest, and most
effective way to augment the SS Trust Fund would be to lift the FICA cap. That would not only eliminate any putative future shortfall, but would also reinforce faith in the Social Security system, to say nothing of the federal government per se. It would obviate, once and for all, proposals to "privatize" pensions and entrust our retirement fortunes to the vagaries of the stock market and the tender mercies of the very people who came perilously close to destroying the economy of the entire world. Nearly every American suffered a horrendous blow to her/his economic well-being, and whose ravages continue to plague us to this very day.

The biggest barrier to an equitable and productive solution to this manufactured panic, of course, is that such a proposal would unite in opposition most of the wealthiest and most powerful people in the nation--the very people who engineered our current economic disaster in the first place. Whatever their intramural differences on other issues, most would clearly regard this as an attack on their collective self-interest <dare one say their collective "selfish-interest"?>. The "one percent" and their minions have been waging "class warfare" on the rest of us for the last three decades. It is way past time to recognize that such a state of war exists and to "take arms" against it, and to use every constitutional means at our disposal to win it.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

My Most Horrendous Weekend

On November 22, 1963, I was a 26 year-old graduate student at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., studying for my comprehensive exams, drafting my doctoral dissertation, and teaching four courses at Prince Georges Community College in nearby Suitland, Maryland. My real job, though, was keeping watch over my gorgeous daughter, Jeanne Marie, who had been born in G.U. Hospital on the previous June 12th, while my wife Lee was teaching middle school in Southeast Washington. We had seen the President and Mrs. Kennedy in person a few times at Sunday mass in Holy Trinity Church, on the G.U. campus. The day of the Wisconsin Democratic Party primary, I was attending early weekday mass at Holy Trinity, as was Mrs. Kennedy. After mass, she lit a votive candle. It must have worked because JFK beat out my favorite candidate--Senator Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota.

On that horrendous November 22, 1963, I was keeping watch over Jeannie, and working on my dissertation. As incredible as it sounds, I had just consulted my dictionary <you know, those bulky volumes that preceded the Internet.>to look up the correct spelling of the word "assassination," because I was writing about the killing of Kentucky Governor William Goebel in 1899. I turned on the TV to catch some of the 1:00 CBS news broadcast, and was stunned to hear that the President had been shot in Dallas.I first yelled out loud that those &&&****
right-wingers had killed the president. Then I knelt down by the living room chair and uttered the Catholic prayer for the dead.  I tried repeatedly to reach Lee at school on one of those old fashioned land lines <remember them?> but I did not know that the city's entire communication and transportation systems had been shut down, for fear that the assassination was the first step in a coup to take over the entire U.S. government. After Lee made it home, I walked over to a nearby shopping center and saw that everyone on the sidewalk was absolutely stunned. Many were completely lost in their own thoughts, while others were deeply engaged in conversation with what had been, up to now, total strangers.

Eventually, I went to P.G.C.C. to teach my evening classes. When I met what was supposed to be my first class, I tried to say something meaningful or comforting, but I was really at a loss for words, for one of the few times in my life, especially in front of a class. We talked a bit about our reactions and feelings, but I finally dismissed my students, as did all of my colleagues. In fact, the entire campus was soon shut down by the administrators. Since we were only a few miles from Andrews Air Force Base, where the plane carrying the President's body, Mrs. Kennedy, and the newly sworn President LBJ was about to land, we drove out in that direction. Needless to say, we were not able to get anywhere near it because of the tight security, so I went home to spend most of the rest of the weekend glued to the TV in an almost catatonic state, barely pausing to eat or sleep. On Saturday night, we went to the Capitol where the President was lying in state, but we were warned by a policeman that it would be at least an eight-hour wait--even to get into the building. The end of the line formed in front of the Capitol and extended, six or eight across, for the 17 blocks south to the Anacostia River and back to the Capitol. The mood was somber and subdued, with most people carrying on quiet conversations among themselves. Many of them were previously unknown to one another, united only by shared grief and disbelief. It was a cold night and we had Jeannie in tow, so we decided to go home and watch events on TV. The next morning, we were stunned again by witnessing Jack Ruby shoot Oswald on live TV, an event that lent an even more surreal atmosphere to an already unimaginable turn of events. On Monday, we decided to watch the funeral procession that ended at Arlington National Cemetery across the 14th Street Bridge on TV, rather than fight the multitudes lined up along the processional route. We probably would have joined them, if it were not for our concern about subjecting Jeannie to that ordeal. To this day, I sometimes still hear the wailing sounds of Chopin's funeral march. It will probably never leave my subconscious and still occasionally rises to the conscious level. It was the most devastating weekend of my life and remains so, even with all the horrors that have occurred with such depressing regularity ever since.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Back to the 19th Century. Or is it the 18th?

One of the most thoughtful and provocative articles I have read recently is "The Return of the 19th Century" by gjohnsit in the September 30th edition of the Daily Kos.  Although I have often insisted that the right-wing reactionaries and their multi-billionaire masters are "trying to repeal the 20th century," I did not really make an effort to flesh out the situation in detail. So I really was excited to read his "list of trends which show the 21st century is going to look a lot more like the 19th century than the 20th century."

First on his list is the decline of organized labor and the middle working class, which it helped foster from the 1930s to the 1960s. By 2012, labor union membership had shrunk to 11.8% of the total workforce and 6.6% of the private sector--you have to go all the way back to 1900 to find "such a small union fingerprint in the private sector." At its height in 1979, union membership hit 21million, 35% of the total workforce. Today it stands as 16.4 million members, 12.4% of the workforce. Of that number, 8.4 million are in public service unions, which have been growing even as private sector union membership has declined to 6.6 million. <Small wonder that public sector unions have become primary targets for right wing reactionaries like Wisconsin's Scott Walker and John Kasich of Ohio.> Union workers receive 10-30% more than their unorganized counterparts. "Strong unions have helped to reduce inequality," according to Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, "whereas weaker unions have made it easier for CEOs, sometimes working with market forces that they have helped shape, to increase it."      
Although globalism, mechanization, outsourcing, and the escalating demand for well-educated and highly skilled workers have all contributed to this decline, the major driving force has been the systematic "war on unionization" waged by corporations and their political stooges during the past 40 years. That, in turn, has been a major cause of his second trend: the growing inequality in wealth and income, as more and more of the gains from the dramatic increase in worker productivity have gone to the already super-rich, a growing disparity not seen since the Gilded Age and the Robber Barons.Indeed, the author asserts that "American income inequality may be more severe today than it was way back in 1774--even if you factor in slavery."

The statistical evidence is too widely known to require rehearsal here, but the frustrating thing is that it has, so far at least, failed to result in the groundswell of popular demands for redress that energized the Progressive Era, the New Deal, and the 1960s. The same is true for the spread of "concentration of control" (better known as the proliferation of monopolies and oligopolies) in just about every major industry--what our Progressive forebears called "trusts" and which was the overriding issue in the milestone election of 1912 between Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt, between "government regulation" and "trust busting." Neither remedy proved efficacious in the long run, and the argument between "regulation" and "anti-trust" is still unresolved, but at least the people of 1912 understood that unchecked monopolies and oligopolies were the greatest economic threat to their well being.                 

Perhaps even more troubling, "it appears that the lessons in humanity that people learned 150 years ago have been forgotten, as prisons have become the "new asylums" for the mentally disturbed. "In every city and state I have visited," gjohnsit quotes Estaban Gonzaldez, president of the American Jail Association, an organization for jail employees, "the jails have become the de facto mental institutions." The country's three biggest jail systems--Cook County, Illinois, Los Angeles County, and New York City--have 11,000 prisoners under treatment on any given day, while the three largest state-run mental hospitals have a combined 4,000 beds. The nation is "warehousing" the mentally ill just as it did 150 years ago, except that today they are stored in prisons. Since 1950, a third of all the psychiatric hospitals have closed and others have cut patient capacity, leaving the prison system as the default institution. As Douglas A. Blackmon has graphically detailed in Slavery By Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War I, thousands of "freed" slaves were incarcerated under the "Convict Leasing System," that sentenced them to work for private companies, our of prison, during the day, and returned them to their cells at night. The system was characterized by neglect, brutality, abuse, and official corruption; prisoners rarely survived for as long as ten years. To replenish the supply, state legislatures, especially in the South, greatly increased the sentences for relatively minor offenses and invented new ones. By far the largest number of convicts were Freedmen. Abolishing the convict lease system was one of the signal achievements of the Progressive Era in several Southern states, pushed by a coalition of organized labor, Social Gospel adherents, and humanitarian organizations. But, due largely to the decline of those institutions, it has been revived in the guise of the private prison industry. The U.S. has increasingly become "a nation of prisons," with an incarceration rate per capita 50% higher than Russia's and 320% more than China's. According to the Pew Center on the States, African Americans are six times more likely than whites to be imprisoned, and non-white Latinos three times as likely. An astounding 11% of black men between the ages of 20 to 34 are behind bars. This despite the fact that housing inmates costs between $20,000 to 30,000 a year--far more than education and social services. At least five states, according to the Pew Center, "spend more on corrections than higher education." Not surprisingly, "budget hawks" rarely lists prison expenditures as one of the major causes of "runaway spending" and budget deficits.

Although not so covert racism and media-inspired fear account for much of this situation, the burgeoning profits realized by private prison companies are one of the driving forces. Many such corporations, according to the Pew Center report, "insist that states embed "occupancy guarantees" into their contracts with with the public sector."   At least 65% of all private prison contracts have such; Arizona tops the list with 100%. If the states fail to meet their obligations in this area, guess who picks up the tab? There are 220,000 people in private prisons, one out of every ten inmates. In 2010, two such companies realized $3 billion dollars in profits. It is one of our country's "growth industries" and its investors are on Wall Street. Two judges have been convicted of taking bribes in the amount of $2.6 billion. The U.S. "prison industry" produces 100% of all military helmets, uniforms, belts and shoulder belts, vests, ID cards, shirts, pants, tents, backpacks and flacks. It also makes 98% of installation tools, 46% of bulletproof vests, 36% of home appliances, 30% of headphones, microphones, megaphones, and 21% of office furniture and aircraft and medical equipment.    

Although the federal government and most states abolished debtor's prisons as early as the 1830s, but a third of the states allow courts to throw impoverished people in prison for failure to pay even minor fines. Some states also apply "poverty penalties," including late fees, payment plan fees, and interest when people are unable to pay all of their debts at once, according to New York University's Brennan Center for Justice. Alabama, for instance, charges a 30% collection fee, while Florida allows private debt collectors to add a 40% surcharge on the original debt. Some Florida counties also have "collection courts," where debtors can be jailed without recourse to a public defender.

The combination of the religious right's War on Science and the gutting of government expenditures on public health have led to a resurgence of such diseases as whooping cough, mumps, rubella, polio, and tuberculosis, which had been eradicated decades ago. Much of this is due to the surge in the number of children unvaccinated because their parents claim exemptions for religious or philosophical reasons. In Massachusetts, where the educational level is far above the national average, nearly 1,200 children were allowed to enter kindergarten without immunization, nearly double the total a decade ago. As many as 4,000,000 Americans are infected with measles; 400 to 500 died.

A century after the monumental debate of 1912, we placidly accept or ignore the constant celebration of mega-mergers or hostile takeovers that produce monopolies and oligarchies in almost every major economic sector. We acquiesce in businesses that are "too big to fail," when Progressive Era Americans would have regarded them as "too big to exist." Indeed, we dociley agree to bail them out with taxpayer money, when ever they create a crisis that threatens to destroy the world economy. Incredibly, those who profess to worship at the shrine of Adam Smith and the classical, "free enterprise" economists blissfully ignore the fact that their mentors regarded monopolies of any sort as anathema. They are particularly unperturbed that some of the most blatant examples of monopolization occur in mass communications. Of the 1,500 daily newspapers in the country, 99% are the only dailies in their communities. Of the 11,800 cable systems, all but a handful enjoy monopoly control of their markets. Of the 11,000 commercial radio stations, the overwhelming majority dominate programming in their respective markets and follow much the same formats. It should be painfully obvious that they not only make a mockery out of "free enterprise" and "competition," but, even worse, guarantee that listeners are fed a steady drumbeat of whatever propaganda their owners want to propagate.

What this all adds up to, gjohnsit asserts, is "the return of Gilded Age Politics," which was characterized by blatant corruption, excessive influence by corporations, and "neither party distinguishing themselves from the other, especially in areas that involve significant reforms." Anyone seriously dispute that?



Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Some Musings on the Affordable Care Act

Let me first state where I stand on the Affordable Care Act: It is a convoluted labyrinth straight out of a Rube Goldberg Cartoon, but it is a step in the right direction and the best that we are able to get for the time being. I also believe that once it goes into effect, all attempts to defund or repeal it will go away fast. The number of uninsured who will be able to afford insurance, the fact that parents will be able to retain their adult children until age 26, the end of refusal for preexisting conditions, and other provisions will prove to be so popular and helpful that the Republicans will claim that it was their idea in the first place. <Well, it was, kinda sorta.> For myself, I would rather restore the public option. <Why was it deleted? Because the for-profit insurance companies realized that the public option would either force them to charge comparable rates or retire from the field, <I think that that is called market economics or free enterprise, or something like that.> The same is even more true for "Medicare for All." The money currently squandered on advertising, public relations, lobbying, and obscene salaries for executives will either go into research and development or some other productive use. Why should anyone make a gigantic profit out of supplying a basic human need?

Obeying the old axiom "Follow the Money," it will become more and more obvious that all of the scare tactics about "socialized medicine" is mostly "smoke and mirrors" obfuscating the fact that the real opposition to ACA, or any other health care insurance plan that will benefit the general public, emanates primarily from for-profit insurance companies and hospital conglomerates, big pharmacy, the makers of expensive medical machinery <which are, of course, available at a far more reasonable cost in civilized countries>,the AMA, which represents fewer than one quarter of the nation's doctors, with an assist from "free market" ideologues. In its usual cynical, "bottom-line" contempt for the general welfare, the insurance industry is reportedly also spending a billion dollars on advertising to help sell its plans on the "exchanges," just in case the ACA proves to be popular and reasonably successful. They are trying to rig it so that they win either way and they can always erase their "losses" by increasing premiums.  I saw a cartoon the other day where a subject vociferously tells a poll taker that he will support ACA, or any other plan,to defeat Obamacare. That is almost as revealing as the oft-quoted Tea Party anthem: "Tell the government to keep its hands off my Medicare."  

The most informative and intensive analysis of the attempt to use both the government shutdown and the debate over raising the national debt limit is "A Federal Budget Crisis Months in the Planning" by Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Mike McIntire the October 5th edition of the New York Times. Sometime in late January of this year, they discovered,"a loose-knit coalition of conservative activists led by former Attorney General Edwin Meese III gathered in the capitol to plot strategy. Their push to repeal Mr. Obama's health care law was going nowhere, and they desperately needed a new Plan." Out of that secret session came a "blueprint to defunding Obamacare, signed by Mr. Meese and leaders of more than three dozen conservative groups." This blueprint articulated a drastic legislative strategy that had long percolated in conservative circles: "that Republicans could derail the health care overhaul if conservatives were willing to push fellow Republicans--including their cautious leaders--into cutting off financing for the entire federal government." <emphasis mine>  According to one coalition member, Michael A. Needham of Heritage Action for America, the political arm of the Heritage Foundation,  acknowledged that his organization "felt very strongly from the start that this was a fight we were going to pick." Interviews with a wide variety of conservatives, Stolberg and McIntire assert,indicate that the current crisis "was the outgrowth of a long-running effort to undo the law, the Affordable Care Act, since its passage in 2010--waged by a galaxy of conservative groups with more money, organized tactics and interconnections than is commonly known."  Although shuttering the government was not their primary objective, these activists "anticipated that a shutdown could occur--and worked with members of the Tea Party caucus in Congress who were excited about drawing a red line against a law they despise." In early September, they developed a "defunding tool kit" that provided "talking points" for answering the question: "what happens when you shut down the government and you are blamed for it?" The lock-step answer, as absurd as it may seem to objective observers, was that "we are simply calling to to fund the entire government except for the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare." This onslaught banded together such right-wing groups as Tea Party Patriots, Americans for Prosperity, Freedom Works, Club for Growth, Generation Opportunity and Young Americans for Liberty. The latter two, especially, were primarily focused on convincing young adults that they did not need "no stinking health insurance," because they were invincible.

Much of the funding came from the "Coke Brothers" and their Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, who contributed more than $200 million, including $5 million to Generation Opportunity, which was responsible for the grossly obscene internet ad showing a crazed and leering Uncle Sam figure popping up between a woman's legs during a contrived gynecological exam. The coalition also tried to pressure vulnerable Republican Congresspeople with "scorecards keeping track of their health care votes," burned phony "Obamacare cards" on college campuses, and distributed scripts for phone calls to Congressional offices, sample letters to editors and canned Twitter and Facebook messages. They even schemed to "primary" those Republican lawmakers who refused to toe the line. North Carolina Republican Senator Richard M.Burr, who told a reporter that defunding was "the dumbest idea I've ever heard," was the victim of a radio attack ad sponsored by the Senate Conservatives Fund, as were Lamar Alexander of Louisiana and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, both of whom are facing Tea Party challengers in the 2014 primary. In Washington,Tea Party Patriots, which created the "defunding tool kit," set up a website <> to promote a rally showcasing many of the Republicans in Congress whom Democrats--and a number of fellow Republicans--say are most responsible for the shutdown. Although Conservatives believe that they represent a majority of voters, a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 57% of subjects disapprove. As a growing number of Republican leaders charged that the defunding strategy was "politically damaging and pointless." Nevertheless, the head of Heritage Action called it "a groundswell that changed Washington from the outside in."

"We regard this as a long-term effort," Americans for Prosperity president Tim Phillips proclaimed, stating that his group planned to spend "millions of dollars" in a "multifront effort" that includes working to prevent states from expanding Medicaid. Their ultimate goal, he exulted, is not to defund ACA, but to repeal it. Heritage Action made Dallas the second stop on a nine-city "Defund Obamacare Town Hall Tour" where nearly 1,000 people turned out to hear Senator Ted Cruz and James De Mint, head honcho of the Heritage Foundation.  Cruz declared that "this is the single best time to defund Obamacare " just before he ranted on for more than twenty-four hours on the Senate floor. Although the sentiment to defund ACA dates back to the time of its passage, many Republicans originally thought that "we don't need to worry about it because the Supreme Court will strike it down." Over the next three years--when the Court and the voters upheld the general outlines of the law--"Tea-Party-inspired groups have mobilized, aided by a financing network that continues to grow. both in its complexity and the sheer amount of money that flows through it." A review of tax records and campaign finance and corporate filings proves that hundreds of millions of dollars have been raised and spent since 2012 by organizations, many of them loosely connected, leading opposition to the measure." One of the biggest donors is Freedom Partners, a tax-exempt "business league" claiming more than 200 members, each of whom pays at least $100,000 in dues. The group is headed by a longtime executive of Koch Industries, although the "Coke Brothers" themselves declined to comment in public. Although Freedom Partners has financed organizations that are overtly member of the defunding coalition, its propaganda claims that it is focused on "educating Americans around the country on the negative impacts of Obamacare." According to the group's latest tax filings, it gave $115 million to the Center To Protect Patient Rights, a faux organization headed by a political consultant to the Kochs, that operates out of a post office box in Arizona. Its sole function appears to be to funnel money to such anti-ACA groups as American Commitment and the 60 Plus Association, who were part of a "Repeals Coalition" that sent a letter to Republican solons urging them to insist "at a minimum" a one-year delay on implementation of the ACA as part of any budget deal. The Conservative 50 Plus Association delivered a defunding petition with 68,700 signatures. Although Enroll America, a nonprofit group allied with the White House, is waging its own campaign to persuade millions of the uninsured to buy coverage, it is hopelessly outgunned. "It is David versus Goliath," admits Phillips of Americans for Prosperity. On the other hand, Generation Opportunity, the pornographers behind the "Creepy Uncle Sam" ads, are spending $750,00 to dissuade young people from participating in ACA. So they will be left with no coverage, who the hell cares? The group receives substantial funding from Freedom Partners, and is headed by a 29 year old instructor for a "leadership institute" bankrolled by Charles Koch, who promises more of the "Uncle Sam" ads and campus visits.

Two other groups, Freedom Works, with its "Burn Your Obamacare cards" rallies, and Young Americans for Liberty, are also concentrating on college campuses. When asked if his organization was trying to sabotage ACA, its director said that "our goal is to educate and empower <???> young people," echoing Freedom Partners.         
Ironically enough, the Conservative Action Project urges that the timing is critical because once the public actually experiences the provisions of ACA< "it would be nearly impossible to repeal--even if a Republican president were elected in 2016."  

There are encouraging signs that the "defunding coalition" is beginning to implode. In a New York Times article of October 10, Eric Lipton and Nicholas Confessore proclaim that "Kochs and Other Conservatives Split Over Strategy on Health Law." They say that "the most vocal elements of the conservative wing of the Republican Party are publicly splintering, a sign of growing concerns among even hard-core conservatives that the defeat-health-care-at-any-cost strategy may have backfired." Some groups, like Heritage Action for America, say that they will not fight any short-term increase in the debt ceiling, while Americans for Prosperity still insist that any increase be tied to cuts in social programs. This consternation follows a public statement by the Koch Companies that it did not support the position of Heritage Action claiming that a government shutdown was not the way to defund ACA. In a letter to the Senate, the Koch conglomerate stated that they"want to set the record straight and correct this misinformation." According to Lipton and Confessore, this sentiment has been roiling beneath the surface of the "defunding coalition" for months, amid growing fear that "the Republicans will be blamed for the fallout from the shutdown with nothing to show for it." As one South Carolina Republican put it: "We were fighting a battle where we already lost, on the same battlefield where we already lost it." Ignoring the fact that the "Coke Brothers" and their cronies had donated $500,000 to Heritage Action just before the 2012 election, they reversed their field with no real explanation. A spokesman for Freedom Partners acknowledged that holding the economy and the government hostage might actually set back the goal of repealing ACA, by leading to the defeat of Republican Congressmen in 1914. "Any strategy to repeal, delay, or replace the law," Karl Rove wrote in the Wall Street Journal, must have a credible chance of succeeding or affecting public opinion positively. The defunding strategy doesn't." Incredibly, the brothers claimed that they "had never taken a position on the legislative tactic of tying the continuing resolution to defunding ObamaCare; nor have we lobbied on legislative provisions defunding ObamaCare."  The Daily Kos , however, contends, "that statement is not accurate," and offers as proof a Valentine's Day letter from FreedomWorks entitled "Coalition Letter" and sub-headed "Congress Must Honor Sequester Savings and Defund Obamacare Before it is Too Late." The letter states that conservatives should not approve a CR (Congressional Resolution) "unless it defunds Obamacare. This includes Obamacare's unworkable exchanges, unsustainable Medicaid expansion, and attacks on life and religious liberty." In other words, "they supported a government shutdown strategy." The Daily Kos article concludes that there is no doubt that "Coke Brothers" not only supported the strategy, but were its major initiators and funders.   

Regardless of the apparent splintering within their coalition, it is beyond question that killing "Obamacare" was the defining goal of all conservatives; their disagreements are purely intramural squabbles about timing and tactics. Since I have already expressed my skepticism about ACA above, I take the liberty of expressing my own general "musings" about what a national health care policy ought to look like. My first axiom is that the larger the insured pool, the more the risks are apportioned among the greatest number of people. The affluent will subsidize the poor, the healthy the unhealthy, and the young the elderly. <I think that is called "insurance."> What a lot of critics fail to comprehend is that those categories of people are constantly in flux. Today's "healthy" will be "unhealthy," if they live long enough. Today's "young" will eventually become "elderly".< Boy, do I know that from my own experience! I never missed a day of work due to illness or injury during the 40 plus years of my professional careers. Since I hit 65 a decade or so ago, I have had seven major surgeries and more ailments than I can keep track of. Most of the lower half of my body is made out of titanium and I am mobile thanks only to the expertise of several surgeons and the medical gadgetry that they have so skillfully wielded.

A corollary is that a certain amount of coercion is necessary to "promote the general welfare." <It actually says that in the preamble of the Constitution. You can look it up.> That is the reason for individual and employer "mandates." When I was a neophyte instructor in my 20s and 30s, I griped vociferously when my employer "sequestered" money from my meager pay check to finance health insurance and retirement benefits. Hell, I never got sick and I was alwaya going to be able to earn my own living, no matter what. I played basketball, tennis, touch football, and ran 2-4 miles everyday until well into my 50s. I was one of the "immortals," as my wife refers to people who stroll across the street in mid-block without looking either way when she is driving, or refuse to wear seat belts or helmets. <She worked in emergency surgery for many years and witnessed the horrible results.> When I was a single parent with five children, during my 40s and 50s, I would have done almost anything to get my hands on the money withheld from my salary for insurance premiums and retirement benefits. I wanted the money NOW to give my kids a quality education and all of the amenities that their peers enjoyed. Since I could not touch it, I provided many of those things THE AMERICAN WAY--by going into debt up to my eyeballs. Not until retirement and the onset of numerous physical ailments did I realize how "dumb lucky" I had been, because the health insurance and retirement benefits were there when I needed them.  

One last thought: The main reason why the ACA (and every other important piece of federal legislation involving taxation, regulation, or "the general welfare") is so convoluted and confusing is that it has been revised countless times to placate the demands of numerous special interest groups. The general formula for those opposing any significant law involving federal taxation, regulation, and the general welfare is: 1. try to prevent it ever seeing the light of day to begin with; 2. failing that, lobby the hell out of it in Congress and weaken it as much as possible, so much so that even some of its original supporters might even refuse to vote for the finished bill; 3. Keep delaying passage for as long as possible so the targeted parties are able to adjust to its provisions; 4. use every propaganda device at their disposal to try and persuade the public that this law will mean the end of civilization itself. 5. keep challenging its provisions in the courts until it can be rendered unconstitutional by the always compliant Supreme Court. <for a graphic case study of this syndrome, see my my book The Income Tax and the Progressive Era.>  Put another way, the people who are savaging the ACA for being so complicated and confusing  are many of the same people who deliberately made it that it that in the first place, so as to prevent the enactment of a "public option," Medicare for all, or any of the single-pay, joint public/private alternatives that countries with grown-up populations have had for decades.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Syria, from Lawrence to Today's Conundrum

Before making up your mind about what to do about Syria, I urge everyone to read Lawrence In Arabia:War, Deceit, Imperial Folly And The Making Of The Modern Middle East by Scott Anderson, a veteran war correspondent who has reported from Lebanon, Israel Egypt, Northern Ireland, Chechnya, Bosnia, El Salvador, and "many other strife-torn countries." He has been a frequent contributor to The New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, Harper's Magazine, and Outside and is the author or co-author of The Man Who Tried to Save the World, The Four O'Clock Murders, War Zone, and Inside the League. The title says it all.  Notice that this is a book about Lawrence IN Arabia, not OF Arabia, a recognition of his paradoxical--and ultimately untenable--role as champion of Arab nationalism and agent of Great Power imperialism. The subtitle is a capsule summary of the Great Power"s relationship with Syria and the entire Middle East over the past century. Perhaps a fitting epitaph to that relationship might be a quote from that great architect of "imperial folly," Rudyard Kipling: "A fool lies here who tried to hustle the East."

Now Lawrence Of Arabia is a spectacular and thought-provoking movie, and Peter O/Toole a masterful interpreter of the angst-ridden, and probably schizophrenic, Lawrence, but neither even begins to scratch the surface of what happened in that region during the Great War, let alone the disastrous consequences that still bedevil us today.  As Anderson convincingly asserts in the Introduction: "The modern Middle East was largely created by the British. It was they who carried the Allied war effort in the region during World War I and who, at its close, principally fashioned it peace. It was a peace presaged by the nickname given the region by covetous Allied leaders in wartime: "the Great Loot." As one of Britain's most important and influential agents in that arena, Lawrence was intimately connected to all, good and bad, that was to come." As for Lawrence himself, "this was an experience that left him utterly changed, unrecognizable in certain respects even to himself. Victory carries a moral burden the vanquished never know, and as an architect of momentous events, Lawrence would be uniquely haunted by what he saw and did during the Great Loot."

Missing from the picture are William Yale, "a fallen American aristocrat in his twenties who as the only American field intelligence in the Middle East during World War I, would strongly influence his nation's postwar policy in the region, even as he remained on the payroll of Standard Oil of New York," Curt Prufer, "a young German scholar who, donning the camouflage of Arab robes, would seek to to foment an Islamic jihad against the western colonial powers, and who would carry his "war by revolution" ideas into the Nazi era," and Aaron Aaronsohn, "a Jewish scientist who, under the cover of working for the Ottoman government, would establish a elaborate an elaborate anti-Ottoman spy ring and play a critical role in creating a Jewish homeland in Palestine."    

Along with Lawrence, they tended to be young, wholly untrained for the missions they were given, and largely unsupervised. who capitalized on their "extraordinary freedom of action," and "drew upon a very particular set of personality traits--cleverness, bravery, a talent for treachery--to both forge their own destiny and alter the course of history." While the senior generals and elder statesmen charted the battlefield campaigns and drew lines on the map it was they "who created the conditions on the ground that brought these campaigns to fruition, who made those postwar policies and boundaries possible." In a conflict that "literally involved millions of players," it was "the subterranean and complex game that these four men played, their hidden loyalties and personal duels, helped create the modern Middle East and, by inevitable extension, the world we live in today."     

Anderson presents a graphic narration of the war in the Middle East, with Lawrence, Yale, Aaronsohn, Prufer, the Arabs, the terrible Turks, the different Arab factions, the Brits and the French routinely lying, cheating, double-crossing, and betraying one another with wild abandon. The carnage there was on a somewhat smaller scale than it was in Europe, but it was just as brutal and senseless, and the outcome equally insane. On pp.481 to 483, he presents a cogent summary of what happened in November, 1918, when "the dam had burst."  The climax for Lawrence came when British General Allenby matter-of-factly informed him that all of his sacrifices on behalf of Arab nationalism had been for naught, because the Brits and the French (whom Lawrence mistrusted and despised) were going to divide up the entire region--and the spoils of The Great Loot, an especially the region's oil deposits--between themselves. Oil might not make the desert bloom, exactly, but it was certainly about to enrich the Great Powers, including the U.S., for their machinations. Lawrence, "had waged a quiet war against his own government and he had lost." Lawrence announced that he wanted no part of this betrayal, resigned his commission, and returned to England "to prepare for the next round in the struggle for Arab independence." He never returned to Syria again.  Of course,his counsel was totally ignored at the Paris Peace Conference, which Anderson characterizes as "a yearlong shadow play." William Yale, who was present at the conference, called it "the prologue of the 20th century tragedy." Aaronsohn lobbied hard for a Jewish state in Palestine, but was outmaneuvered by the Great Powers and by English Zionist Chaim Weismann, who lived to become the first the first president of the state of Israel. {In an incredibly bizarre twist, Prufer recruited Weismann's sister Minna into his pro-German spy ring.} Prufer returned to the chaos in the Fatherland, joined the Nazi Party, and became an SS officer and member of the German foreign ministry during World War II.

In his epilogue, Anderson presents a cogent summary of the poisoned fruits of the Peace Conference and the chaotic world they produced. Lawrence published several accounts of his time in Arabia in The Seven Pillars of Wisdom and the shorter mass-market Revolt in the Desert.       
And what of the United States in all of this? They were latecomers to the conflict itself, but a mighty presence in Paris. William Yale "placed much of the blame on his own government." He charged that the Peace Conference "seemed a rather perfect reflection of Woodrow Wilson's peculiar blend of idealism and arrogance" judging it "the hint of a simplistic mind-set." His grand vision of the new world "rested upon a bedrock of profound ignorance." His principle of "self determination" for all subject nations clashed fundamentally with the reality of Great Power imperialism and opened up "a Pandora's Box" of "wars of national liberation" that have been plaguing the world ever since. Anderson rests much of his agreement with Yale on Wilson's appointment of a Middle Eastern research section that completely ignored Lawrence, Yale, and anyone else with scintilla of knowledge of the region. It was chaired by a classics professor at the University of Wisconsin, and included "a specialist in Latin American studies, an American Indian historian, a scholar on the Crusades, and two Persian linguistics professors."

 Nor was Yale himself without blame. His top secret report to U.S. military intelligence in London, outlining the supposed collapse of morale among the Arab rebels fighting with the British was delivered on the eve of Lawrence's first strike against the enemy. "With that dispatch," Anderson proclaims, "he was establishing a tradition of fundamentally misreading the situation in the Middle East that his successors in the American intelligence community would rigorously maintain for the next ninety-five years."      

Friday, July 5, 2013

It Is a Scandal, Just Not That One

 It's not political activity," insisted the president of the Ohio Liberty Coalition (an offshoot of the Tea Party), which was being scrutinized by the IRS for possible violations of its 501 (c) (4) tax exempt status. He acknowledged that his "social-welfare organization" emailed members inviting them to Romney campaign events, distributed pro-Romney literature, canvassed potential voters, and blanketed neighborhoods with partisan "door hangers," but his attorneys had assured him the IRS was only concerned about money given to buy radio and TV time. The Wetumka (Alabama) Tea Party admitted that it had sponsored training programs for a get-out-the-vote initiative dedicated to "the defeat of President Barack Obama," but insisted that this particular training session was just one of a variety that it sponsored for "educational purposes."

Welcome to the "down the rabbit hole," "through the looking glass," "never, never land" of income tax exemptions!!!!!

As you are doubtless aware, one of the "scandals" that Republicans are revving up in their concerted efforts to bring down the Obama presidency is the charge that the IRS--at the clear direction of the White House-- is systematically and deliberately conspiring to deprive conservative "social-welfare organizations" of their tax-exempt status under Section 501 (c) (4) of the Internal Revenue Code. Senator Susan Collins of Maine calls it "absolutely chilling." Darrell Issa of California,, chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform charges that "the indication is that they were directly being ordered from Washington," while Dave Camp of Michigan, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, insists that "we know it didn't originate in Cincinnati." Harold Rogers of Kentucky, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, fulminates that "the enemies list <Nixon anyone?> out of the White House proves that the IRS was engaged in shutting down, or trying to shut down,the conservative political viewpoint across the country." Erstwhile Reagan mouthpiece Peggy Noonan calls it "the  worst Washington scandal since Watergate." Jenny Beth Martin. national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots, charges that "the IRS has demonstrated the most disturbing, illegal and outrageous abuse of government power." Pompous pundit George Will has even threatened resort to the dreaded "I word." 
The real story is much more convoluted--and much less sinister--according to the "audit" by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, and probably by the transcripts of the interviews of IRS staff conducted by agents of the House Committee on Oversight and Government. The problem with the latter is that the chair of that committee is none other than Darrell Issa, who refuses to make them part of the public record, despite repeated requests from its ranking Democratic member--Elijah Cummings of Maryland. <Why do I think that if those transcripts upheld Issa's conspiracy theory in any way, shape, or form, he would have broadcast them on every media known to our mass communications-obsessed universe? > 

The overall objective of the TIGTA audit was to "determine whether allegations were founded that the IRS: 1). targeted specific groups applying for tax-exempt status, 2) delayed processing of targeted groups' applications, and, 3) requested unnecessary information from targeted groups."  The TIGTA concluded that "the IRS used inappropriate criteria that identified for review Tea Party and other organizations applying for tax-exempt status based upon their names or policy positions, instead of indications of potential political campaign intervention" In addition, it accused the agency of "ineffective management," because it allowed those criteria to be developed and continue in force for more than 18 months, resulting in substantial delays and allowing "unnecessary" information requests to be ignored. Although the IRS began processing some applications with "potential significant political campaign intervention," there was no work completed on the majority of them for 13 months," primarily due to delays in receiving assistance from the Exempt Organizations function Headquarters Office. Specifically, the TIGTA audit found that of the total 269 total campaign intervention applications reviewed as of 17 December 2012, 108 had been approved, 28 were withdrawn by the applicant, none had been denied, and 160 were open from 206 to 1,138 calendar days ("some of them for more than three years and crossing three election cycles.") During that period, many of those organizations received requests for additional information that included "unnecessary burdensome questions," such as lists of past and future donors. Oddly enough, the IRS later informed some organizations that they did not need to provide the information previously requested. Agency officials also stated that any donor information received in requests from its Determinations Division were subsequently destroyed.

Based upon those findings, TIGTA recommended that the IRS finalize the interim actions taken, better document the reasons why applications potentially involving political campaign intervention are chosen for review, develop a process for tracking requests for assistance, develop and publish guidance, develop and provide training to employees before each election cycle, and expeditiously resolve remaining political campaign interventions (some of which have been in process for three years), and request that social welfare activity guidance be developed by the Department of the Treasury. In response, IRS officials agreed with 7 of 9 of the above recommendations and proposed "alternative corrective actions" for the other 2. The TIGTA , however, does not agree that these "alternative corrective actions will accomplish the intent of its recommendations and insists that the IRS should better document the reasons why applications involving political campaign intervention are chosen for review and develop and publish guidance.            

Probably the most important finding of the TIGTA is that whatever malfeasance occurred was strictly "in-house"--specifically within the Tax Exempt Organizations Division of the IRS.  The offending individuals were lower-level and middle-range bureaucrats and managers who were trying to find a "short-cut" way of dealing with an avalanche of 501 (c) (4) applications with a severely depleted staff. The number of applications had jumped from 1741 in 2011 to 2774 in 2012, while the IRS budget had been cut 17 percent per capita since 2002. Congress had also piled on new duties, such as hunting for off-shore accounts and dealing with the complexities of the Affordable Care Act. The task was so overwhelming, according to TIGTA,  that TEOD workers were forced to engage in a form of "triage," in which they developed  "lookout lists" or BOLOs <Be on the Lookout> of some 300 new applications for closer examination. It found that 75 had in their name or explanatory papers words like Tea Party, Patriot, Constitutional Education, or the like. Moreover, the agency did  not reject a single application prior to the 2012 election. It only asked for additional information, only some of which the TIGTA auditors regarded as "inappropriate." That it dragged on for 13 months was due mostly to "ineffective management" and to "delays in receiving assistance from the Exempt Organizations function Headquarters office."  (Heads did roll, including that of the IRS Commissioner). The TIGTA audit found no evidence that those at fault were acting under mandates issued by the leadership of the IRS or the Treasury Department, let alone by the Obama administration. The criteria under which they operated were strictly sui generis; the result of a desperate,"ham-handed" attempt to put some form of order on the chaos.    

In what could well be the death blow to the right-wing conspiracy theory, new acting IRS Commissioner, Daniel Werfel,  just released the instructions that had been issued to officials vetting the 501 (c) (4) applications. They reveal that BOLOs issued to examiners not only included such obviously conservative words as "Tea Party' and "Patriot," but also such clearly liberal words as "Progressive" and "Occupy."   Far from being a plot to reject applications from conservative organizations, the instructions contained "key word short cuts" to help identify overtly political groups--of any and all ideological bents--that were seeking tax favors by claiming to be "social welfare organizations. The BOLO lists also included medical marijuana advocates, organizations promoting the new health care law, and even applications that dealt with "disputed territories in the Middle East." One such list warned that the "common thread is the word "progressive," and in which "activities appear to lean toward a new political party" and are "partisan" and appear as anti-Republican." The lists also targeted "open source software  organizations" because they "are usually for-profit business or for-profit support for technicians," groups for carrying out provisions of the Affordable Care Act, and regional health information organizations. For whatever reason, "occupied territory advocacy" groups "seemed subject to the most scrutiny of all." IRS officials cautioned
all employees that "applications may be inflammatory, advocate a one-sided point of view, and promotional materials may signify propaganda." The essence of the "scandal" thus morphed  from a putative liberal conspiracy to stifle nascent conservative political movements into an investigation of questionable sorting tactics used by IRS screeners. 

At the same time, Werfel formally ordered an end to all existing BOLOs, and promulgated an "expedited process" for groups to attain tax-exempt status under section 501 (c) (4) of the IR code. To qualify, groups must agree that no more than 40 percent of their expenditures and time can be spent on campaigns for candidates seeking political office. Conversely, at least 60 percent of a group's time and expenses must be dedicated to "social welfare activities." But this new "expedited process" ignores the fundamental question of whether "social welfare organizations" should be allowed to participate in partisan politics at all. The crux of that issue dates back to the enactment of the Revenue Act of 1913, which established the federal income tax system that we still "enjoy" today. <For a detailed discussion of the ratification of the Sixteenth Amendment and the subsequent passage of the Revenue Act of 1913, see my The Income Tax and the Progressive Era (Garland Publishing, 1985).> The nation's first permanent income tax was one of moderate rates and generous exemptions and deductions, the last of which evolved exponentially over the next century to include 28 types of "nonprofit" organizations subsumed under Section 501 (c). The fourth category of these favored groups--(501 (c) (4)--specified "civic leagues, social welfare organizations, and local associations of employees." operated "EXCLUSIVELY for the promotion of social welfare," with membership "limited to a designated company or people in a particular municipality or neighborhood and with net earnings devoted EXCLUSIVELY to charitable, educational, or recreational purposes." An organization is "operated EXCLUSIVELY for the promotion of social welfare if it is PRIMARILY engaged in promoting the common good and general welfare of the people of the community," Thanks largely to the efforts of legions of lobbyists and generations of Congressional horse-trading, EXCLUSIVELY was superseded by PRIMARILY, while "promoting the common good and welfare of the people on the community" was distended to incorporate virtually every organized human activity under the sun, no matter how contrived or far-fetched. By the same token, the calculation of PRIMARILY kept being revised downward to something like single digits or less. In that sense, Werfel's dictum of a 40-60 split would at least require a major reordering and upgrading of activities for most "social welfare organizations."

Indeed the major bone of contention for progressives is that the IRS concentrated on "small-fries," while such behemoths, with little or no discernible "social welfare" functions, as Crossroads GPS and Priorities USA have generally escaped serious scrutiny. And, as my introductory vignette graphically illustrates, the IRS has never established any reasonably clear dividing line between "social welfare' and "political activity, let alone any rational definition of either. 501 (c) (4)s "may inform the public on controversial subjects and attempt to influence legislation relative to its program." They may also "participate in political campaigns and elections, so long as its primary activity is the promotion of social welfare." Their tax exemption applies to most of their operations, but contributions may be subject to a gift tax, while "income spent on political activities--generally the advocacy of a particular candidate in an election--IS TAXABLE." It may directly or indirectly support or oppose a candidate for public office as long as such activities are not a substantial amount of its activities. Contributions to 501 (c) (4) organizations are not deductible as charitable contributions on Form 1040, but dues and some contributions may be deductible as business expenses. Amounts paid for intervention or participation in any political campaign, direct lobbying, grass roots lobbying, or contact with certain federal officials are not deductible. If an organization engages in any of these activities, only the amount of dues or contributions that can be attributed to other activities may be deductible as a business expense. It should provide a notice to its members containing a reasonable estimate of the amount related to lobbying and political campaign expenses, or be subject to a proxy tax on said spending. It should also provide an express statement that contributions to the organization are not deductible as charitable deductions. 501 (c) (4) organizations are not required to disclose their donors publicly. This lack of disclosure has led to extensive use of the 501 (c) (4) provisions by organizations that are actively involved in lobbying." SPENDING FROM THESE ORGANIZATIONS ON POLITICAL TV ADS HAS EXCEEDED SPENDING FROM "SUPER PACS."

Actually, both phony "social welfare organizations" and Super PACs are fruit from the same poisoned tree, the spawn of two of the most anti-democratic decisions in the history of the Supreme Court: v Federal Election Commission.and Citizens United v. FEC. The first ruled that restrictions on individual contributions to independent organizations that seek to influence elections are unconstitutional; the second that limits on corporate and union spending to influence elections are also unconstitutional.  Combined, these rulings allowed individuals, unions, corporations, and other organizations to contribute freely to political action committees that are independent of political candidates. They also constitute the most lethal anti-democratic one-two punch in the nation's history.  You generally don't need a "3" after a one-two punch, but the Supreme Court threw one in for good measure last week by invalidating Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

A Super PAC is allowed to raise and spend unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, individuals, and associations (Read the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its constituent trade associations) without disclosing where their money came from. They are technically known in the federal election code as "independent expenditure-only committees," and are laughably easy to create <all you need is access to obscene sums of money.> They advocate for the election or defeat of candidates for federal office by purchasing television, radio, and print advertisements and other media. They differ from garden-variety PACs in who can contribute and how much. They differ from 501 (c) (4)s in that they must reveal the names of their donors.Their only limitation is that they cannot spend money "in concert or cooperation with, or at the request or suggestion of a candidate, the candidate's campaign, or a political party." Although there are both conservative and liberal PACs, the former far outweigh the latter in both number and money. Even John McCain admits that "there is too much money washing around politics, and it's making the campaigns irrelevant." In his dissent to SpeechhNow v. FEC,  Justice John Paul Stevens charged that the majority constitutes "a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt." The truth is that Super PACs and phony social welfare organizations"--whether conservative, liberal, progressive, reactionary, or whatever--are, to quote Robert Weisman of PCN, carefully contrived "dirty money laundering operations." They force Americans "who are willing to put their mouths where their money goes," to subsidize candidates and ideas that they find abhorrent. 

It is glaringly obvious that Werfel's "expedited process" with its 40-60 split will do absolutely nothing to stanch the flow of "dark money" that is threatening to make a mockery of our democratic political system. Nor would the complete elimination of the 501 (c) (4) deduction of the Internal Revenue Code, which would also destroy thousands of legitimate "civic leagues, social welfare organizations, and local associations of employees." Nor is there any real possibility of reaching consensus on the definition of "political activity" itself, let alone how much and what kinds of "it" to permit. Above all, that determination should NOT be the province of the IRS, which has no constitutional or rational authority--nor expertise--to pass judgment on issues so fundamental to our very essence as a political democracy.             

Even more essential is the necessity to remove the corrupting advantage of money itself in politics. Of course, any attempt to do that would meet the implacable opposition of the country's most powerful special interest groups, but that, ipso facto, is the biggest single reason for taking drastic measures. We must enshrine it in law that corporations are NOT people, and that the right to free speech is not graduated according to wealth. The first step is to overturn Citizens United, most likely by constitutional amendment, which would require proposal by two-thirds of both houses of Congress and ratification by three-fourths of the states. As daunting a task as that certainly is, sixteen state legislatures have already called for such a move: California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Vermont, Connecticut, Maryland, Colorado, Montana, and Oregon. Properly understood, such action should receive bipartisan support, as it has in most of those states, because it is an issue that affects every American, regardless of political affiliation or ideology. This will almost certainly be a grueling, bitterly fought process, but my own decades of research into America's political history has revealed that the Sixteenth (federal income tax), Seventeenth (direct election of U.S. Senators), and Nineteenth (women's suffrage) only succeeded after decades of frustration and short-term defeats. It also shows that amendments to abolish child labor and to guarantee equal rights for women have not yet prevailed, despite generations of persistent advocacy. The other absolute necessity is the enactment by Congress of public financing for federal elections and a national uniform voting rights and standards act that will guarantee that every American is playing on the same field and under the same rules. That fight will be, if anything, more grueling and bitter, but the Supreme Court's decimation of the enforcement machinery set in place by the 1965 Voting Rights Act, is already spawning a rats' nest of voting restriction laws that will effectively disenfranchise millions of the most vulnerable citizens. Don't forget that is was only injunctions and stays issued by federal judges in several states that prevented such restrictive measures from being implemented in 2012. With the cover provided by Citizens United and the evisceration of the Voter Rights Act, many of those protections will doubtless be obliterated. 

What is clearly at stake here, as Justice Louis Brandeis so brilliantly articulated: We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, but we can't have both. Elaborating on that theme on the eve of the Great Depression, Nobel Prize winning economist Irving Fisher warned that Either the plutocracy will buy up the democracy or the democracy will vote away the plutocracy. From the 1930s through the 1960s, the democracy seemed destined to prevail, but over the past four decades, the plutocracy has overwhelmingly succeeded in its scheme to "buy up the democracy." The time to reverse that abomination is clearly long overdue.   


Monday, May 20, 2013

The Right-Wing Juggernaut

For the past four decades, the very foundations of our hard-won progressive democracy have been under ferocious assault by a bewildering variety of extremely reactionary organizations, foundations, "think tanks," and political action committees. Whether or not this onslaught constitutes a "conspiracy" or "movement"  in the strict definition of those terms, The American Prospect has made a convincing case that their origins can be traced back to a 1971 memorandum sent by corporate attorney and soon-to-be Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Lewis Powell to Eugene Sydnor, Jr.,chair of the education committee of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In their view, the free-enterprise system--and conservatism in general--was losing the battle of ideas and policies to the dominant ideology of "liberalism." <It was not until the onset of the 21st century that the  "liberalism" of the past 70 years gradually morphed into "progressivism," a philosophy that traced its roots to the early 1900s> "No thoughtful person," according to Powell, "can question that the American economic system is under broad attack." "Conservatism," he argued, had been marginalized for decades by the New Deal and its lineal descendants. Pro-business candidates and policies were being overwhelmed by a "massive assault upon its philosophy, upon its right to manage its own affairs," and had "responded--if at all--by appeasement, ineptitude, and ignoring the problem." <Reality Check: those three decades were also characterized by the most sustained and equitably distributed prosperity in the nation's history.>  To "remedy" that "awful" state of affairs, Powell proposed an number of specific steps that the Chamber, and business in general, could undertake.  

Corporate America, Powell insisted, had to learn that political power is necessary, that "it must be assiduously cultivated, and that, when necessary, it must be used aggressively and with determination." Among other things, he recommended that the Chamber establish "a staff of highly qualified scholars in the social sciences who do believe in the system," and "help conservative academics publish their ideas both in journals and in books." Business should insist on getting its viewpoint represented on television news shows, and publicize the "crucial role of stockholders--the real entrepreneurs, the real capitalists--and try to mobilize them on behalf of corporate interests and priorities."  According to the editors of TAP, the Powell memo "must be reckoned as one of the most successful political directives in history," because corporations increased their involvement in both lobbying and elections, "proclaimed the shareholder (instead of the worker) to be the most important figure in the American economy, and established and funded a host of new institutions (or reinvigorated old ones, like the American Enterprise Institute) to advance their viewpoints and interests."  The Powell Memo "spawned an assertive business and intellectual infrastructure that formulated the ideas and policies of the revitalized conservative movement." <At the risk of sounding naive or self-righteous, I feel compelled to point out that the essence of social science research is to study the way things really are and how they actually operate in the real world before hazarding any interpretations or judgments. Social Science is supposed to proceed by the inductive method, not the deductive. That some social scientists don't always live up to those protocols,does not relieve anyone of the imperative to at least try to proceed according to the canons of empiricism. Powell and his cronies don't even bother "to pay lip service" to the fundamental premise of social science.>     

As the TAP editors contend, "the right is reaping the rewards of having built for the long term." They also have learned to coordinate the efforts of various organization so that they reinforce one another.The list of their advocacy groups is staggering, and not a little bit scary. Not even Orwell or Kafka could make up some of them:
1. American Legislative Exchange Council (widely known as ALEC). Founded by Paul Weyrich with money from the Scaife Foundation, it drafts model pro-business, anti-regulatory, tax-destroying bills that have been introduced almost verbatim in state legislatures with widely varying histories and demographics..
2. Century Strategies/Faith and Freedom Coalition: founded by "professional Christian" Ralph Reed who refers to it as "the Christian Coalition on steroids." Successor to the Moral Majority of Jerry Falwell.
3. Americans for Tax Reform: Headed by anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist, who has orchestrated the notorious no- tax pledge by Republican office holders
4. The Federalist Society: An organization of 30,000 ultraconservative lawyers who put pressure on judges and legislators. Its most prominent members are Supreme Court Justices John Roberts, Anton Scalia, Samuel Alito, and Clarence Thomas.<Scalia's son Eugene is the chief lobbyist and litigator for the finance industry in its fight against any form of regulation, especially the Dodd-Frank law.>

For a detailed account,see Michael Avery and Danielle McLaughlin, The Federalist Society: How Conservatives Took the Law Back from Liberals, (Vanderbilt U. Press, 2013) and Steven M. Teles, Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement, (Princeton U. Press, 2008).

5. The James Madison Center for Free Speech: Founded by Mitch McConnell and headed by James Bopp, right-wing lawyer par excellence, long time attorney for anti-abortion forces, and vigorous opponent of any efforts to regulate campaign financing. Played a key role in the case that resulted in Citizens United.
6. American Crossroads/Crossroads GPS: Co-founded by Karl Rove and bankrolled by Texas oil and real estate barons Harold Simmons and Bob Perry, who also financed the "Swift Boat" smear against Kerry in 2004. Has spent tens of millions of dollars on right-wing candidates for Congress
7. Freedom Works/Americans for Prosperity:  Funded largely by the Koch brothers and headed by sleazy  Congressman Dick Armey. It provides guidance and resources to the Tea Party and right-wing Republican candidates.
8. The Tea Party: Phony "grass-roots" movement financed largely by Americans for Prosperity and promoted by Glenn Beck and fellow Talk Radio screamers.
9. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce: The Chamber took the Powell Memo to undreamed of heights. Major opponent of the regulation of the health care and finance industries regulation and of a more equitable tax structure. It has become so blatantly right-wing that even Apple and Yahoo have resigned from membership.
10. The Business Roundtable: Made up of the heads of the nation's most wealthy and powerful banks and corporations, it is adamantly opposed to any measures of consumer or labor protection and to the taxation of corporations. It is the major forces behind "free trade" agreements.
11. Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation/Fox News: Owns the Wall Street Journal and The Weekly Standard. Chief purveyor of right-wing propaganda as "news."
12. Talk Radio: Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Glenn Beck and a menagerie of hate-mongers
13.  Conservative College Newspapers: Funded by the Olin Foundation to counter the effect of legitimate chroniclers of campus news and opinion. The National Journalism Center, headed by M. Stanton Evans, provides comfortable internships in D.C. for right-wing journalism students, Ann Coulter is one of their most famous alumnae.

Who provides the funding for these "think tanks," foundations, and institutes?  We all do because most of them--probably all of them-- fiendishly masquerade as "social welfare organizations.," making them eligible to claim tax-exempt status under the provisions of section 501 (c) (4) of the Internal Revenue Service code. <More about that in a later post.>

1. Charles and David Koch: The sons of John Birch Society founder Fred Koch. They are oil, gas, and chemical billionaires (One of the worst polluters and contributors to global warming, whose existence they vociferously  deny.  They co-founded the ultra-libertarian Cato Institute and are the chief funding source of Freedom Works, which runs the Tea Party and Americans for Freedom.              
2. The Bradley Foundation: Since 1985, it has contributed about $30 million dollars annually to the Heritage Foundation, ALEC, and Americans for Tax Reform.
3. The Scaife Foundations: Bankrolled by the banking fortune of Andrew Mellon and Richard Mellon Scaife, they have established four foundations and several right-wing newspapers. They are a major source of funding for numerous "think-tanks" It also funded the Arkansas Project, a quasi-investigative journalistic adventure that tried unsuccessfully to find evidence linking President Clinton to drug-running and murder.
4. The Olin Foundation: Established in 1953 by John M. Olin, a leading ammunition and chemical manufacturer, it funded the Heritage Foundation and several right-wing college newspapers,until it used up all of its endowment in 2005.
5. William E. Simon Foundation: Former Treasury Secretary under Presidents Nixon and Ford. President of the Olin Foundation for 23 years. These two pseudo- foundations have funded numerous right-wing causes and think-tanks.
6. Joseph Coors: The grandson of brewer Adolph Coors, he bankrolled the rise of Ronald Reagan and the Heritage Foundation. He established an internship and a dormitory for students who worked half-time for conservative Congressmen and half-time for the Heritage Foundation. He also paid for a cargo plane that was a key element in the Iran-Contra Affair of Oliver North and Reagan.  <I am particularly incensed by Budwiser, Coors, and Miller breweries because they market their product primarily to working class people, while lobbying against collective bargaining,, minimum wage laws, and pro-labor legislation, in general. They also deliberately conceal the fact that they are all owned by foreign conglomerates.

Crucial to the right-wing cause are the so-called think tanks that masquerade as non-partisan, pseudo-academic seekers after "truth," which they have already defined in advance:
1. The Cato Institute: So libertarian that they are to the right of the Tea Party and ultraconservative Republicans, they have led the crusade to privatize Social Security and Medicare, and to abolish the minimum wage. As libertarian ideologues, its members clash with their less doctrinaire Republican colleagues over the War on Drugs and intervention into the affairs of other nations.
2. American Enterprise Institute: Founded in 1938 as an anti-New Deal clearing house, it bankrolled Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Ronald Reagan throughout his career. It laid the groundwork for Reagan's "welfare reform" and for the "Iraqi Surge" of 2009.
3. The Heritage Foundation:Founded in 1973 with Coors and Koch money,it provided much of the propaganda behind the Reagan tax cuts, and Newt Gingrich's Contract With <On?> America, as well as the idea of a health insurance mandate, which they no bitterly oppose because it has become one of the keystones of the Affordable Care Act.
4. The Manhattan Institute: Founded in 1978 by future CIA director William Casey, it has always tried to prevent unionization and multiculturalism. It led the fight against the Clinton Healthcare Act.
5. The Hudson Institute:  Founded in 1961 by Herman Kahn, who insisted that a nuclear war was "winnable." It is adamantly "hawkish" on foreign and military matters, and helped devise Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson's insidious  "work-to-welfare" scheme. Its senior vice-president is Lewis "Scooter" Libby of the Valerie Plame fiasco.
6.  The Claremont Institute:  Founded in 1979 (and not affiliated with Claremont Colleges), it focuses on national and foreign policy issues, as well as those dealing directly with California. Former "fellows" include Christine O'Donnell, the failed Delaware Senatorial candidate, who was so far out thar she was even repudiated by the leaders of her own party..      

There can be little doubt that the ultimate goal of this reactionary juggernaut is "trying to repeal the twentieth century,l" to quote Timothy Egan in the New York Times Not all of it, just the hard-won achievements of the Progressive Era, the New Deal, the Fair Deal, the Great Society, the Civil Rights Movement for women and minorities; in short anything that has moved this country forward out of the great abyss of the Gilded Age. Nor can there be any serious doubt that they have amassed the financial, organizational, and ideological resources to do exactly that,unless we are somehow able to reverse the trajectory of the last three decades.  As much as it pains me to say so, I have to grudgingly acknowledge their success in responding to the Powell Memo. What is even more alarming is that they have managed to persuade millions of Americans to work against their own obvious self-interest and security--and that of their children and grandchildren.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Republicans Still Don't Get It; They Don't Even Know What "It" Is

It ia right there on their website--<>--all 100 pages of it. Its official name in Growth and Opportunity Project of the Republican National Committee, but it is becoming much more commonly known as "the Republican Autopsy Report."  It is the brainchild of R.N.C.Chairman Reince Priebus, who first gained notoriety by wresting that position away from its previous occupant, Michael Shields, who was the first African American ever to reach that exalted rank. Priebus and I are both privileged to reside in the First Congressional District of Wisconsin, which is represented by none other than rejected vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan. [How did I get so lucky as to live in such an enlightened district?] Priebus is an attorney who lives in "Pleasant Prairie," a suburb of Kenosha, which is one of the most Democratic cities in the state. I first became aware of him when he made his only try for public office against Democrat Bob Wirch, who has been a member of the Wisconsin Legislature since 1993. Priebus ran one of the most vicious campaigns in recent memory, in which some of his handlers went door-to-door impersonating Wirch people, and espousing blatantly false distortions of his opponent's record and platform. [Fortunately, a solid majority of voters in the 22nd Senatorial District saw through Priebus's curtain of deceit and slime and elected Wirch by a sizable margin.] Disturbed by the fact Democratic candidates has won four of the last six presidential election [five, if you go by popular votes] by an average yield of 327 to 211 electoral votes, and that "public perception of the Party is at record low, Chairman Priebus appointed a commission of "distinguished" Republicans to investigate the causes of that disastrous situation and "recommend a plan to further ensure Republicans are victorious in 2013, 2014, 2016 and beyond," and that will be "critical as we move forward as a party and take our message to every American."

The five person commission consisted of Henry Barbour, the nephew of Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour and leader of the campaign to oust  Shields as R.N.C.chairman and replace him with Priebus; Ari Fleischer, George W. Bush's erstwhile press secretary; Sally Bradshaw, who was a "top ally" of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, a senior adviser to both Mitt Romney [remember him?] and the Florida Republican Party, and adviser to Hayley Barbour's political action committee; Zoraida Fonalledas, long-time national committeewoman for Puerto Rico, and Glenn McCall, a national committeeman from South Carolina and an African American. They
boast that their recommendations were based upon more than 52,00 Contacts Made, including 36,000 online surveys, 800 conference calls, 3,000 group listening sessions, 500 one-on-one phone calls, and 250 one-on-one meetings, all with various Project chairs. They also held more than 50 focus groups in Des Moines and Columbus, and conducted 2,640 surveys with "women,"[???] 2,000 with Hispanics, 100 with pollsters, 225 with consultants, 6,390 with volunteers and 600 with field staff. Their final report makes seven categories of recommendations: Messaging, Demographic Partners, Campaign Mechanics, Third Party Groups, Fundraising, Campaign Finance, and Primary Process.  

In a halfhearted mea culpa, the commissioners assert that "public perception of the Party is at an all time low", that "young voters are increasingly rolling their eyes at what the Party represents," and that "many minorities wrongfully think that the Republicans do not like them or want them in the country." Even though the party core has remained "the Party of  Reagan, "it sounds "increasingly out of touch," and "needs to stop talking to itself," is "driving around in circles on an ideological cul-de-sac," and that some people say that "Republicans don't care," are "scary," and "narrow-minded." The commissioners go so far as to quote Tea Party sage Dick Armey: "You can't
 call someone ugly and expect them to go to the prom with you." [Throughout, the report demonstrates an almost schizophrenic attitude toward the extreme right-wing of the party, trying to maintain their support while tacitly recognizing that most of the negative attitudes to which they refer are in reaction to the widely perceived "Tea Partyization" of the G.O.P. How can you move the party toward a more moderate middle without alienating your core constituency? How can you "reach out" to minorities, youth, the elderly, and "women" when those are the very people your most rabid supporters despise?]  Their attitude reminds me of satirical song by comedian Stan Freberg called "Take An Indian to Lunch." I don't recall all the lyrics, but the gist is "let's pretend that he is part of our regular bunch," and "let him believe that he is almost as good as we."     
The commissioners attribute part of the problem to the fact that "Democrats tend to talk about people, Republicans tend to talk about policy", and that "we need to do a better job connecting people to our policies." Coming painfully close to reality, they acknowledge that "the middle class has struggled mightily and that far too many of our  citizens live in poverty." While they continue to believe that the answer to most questions lie in "private sector economic growth," they also claim to understand that "people who are flat on their back, unemployed or disabled or in need of not care if the help comes from the private sector or the government." But their job as Republicans is to champion private economic growth so people will not turn to government in the first place," to "make sure that "government works for those truly in need." and that "the government's safety net is a trampolene, not a trap." They want the G.O.P. to be the "champion of those who seek to climb the economic ladder," and to give everyone a "chance to make it in life." They profess that Republicans "need to blow the whistle at corporate malfeasance and attack corporate welfare," and to "speak out when a company liquidates itself and its executives receive bonuses but rank-and-file are left unemployed." They need "to do a better job talking in normal people-oriented terms and "go to communities where Republicans do not normally go to listen and and make our case," and to campaign among Hispanic, black, Asian, and gay Americans and "demonstrate that we care about them, too. We have to engage them and show our sincerity." In doing so, however, "it is not just the tone that counts. Policy always matters." !!!!!!!!!! While acknowledging that they "are not a policy committee," they do assert that "we must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform, "because it is consistent with Republican economic policies that promote job growth and opportunity for all. The "Party must "in fact and deed" be inclusive and welcoming, because if it isn't "we will limit our ability to attract young people and others, including many women, who agree with us on some but not all issues." The ultimate message, the report concludes, is that "The Grand Old Party should be synonymous with the Growth and Opportunity Party.

The commissioner's overarching recommendation in their "Demographic Partners" section is the formation of a Growth And Opportunity Inclusion Council, which should meet a minimum of four times a year for training, exchange of ideas, and effectiveness assessment. It should conduct "grass roots educational programs," identify, prepare and promote a diversified and talented pool of future candidates and leaders, and convene "focus groups with non-Republican ethnic groups in an effort to gain insight into the real and perceived issues affecting their communities."  It should design a "surrogate program to train and prepare ethnic conservatives for media presentations," to educate Republican candidates "on the particular culture, aspirations, positions, positions on issues, contributions to the country, etc. of the demographic group they are trying to reach."  They also recommend that the R.N.C. hire a "faith-based outreach director to focus on engaging faith-based organizations and communities with the Republican Party." They stress the urgency of "reaching out" to Hispanics, Asian and Pacific Islander Americans, African Americans, Youth [?], and Women [?], all of whom apparently are terra incognito to most Republicans. [Women, too?] Most of the specific recommendations seem to be variations on a template of how to deal with "exotic" peoples. They recommend hiring communications and political directors,carefully craft a tone that takes into consideration the unique perspective of the targeted group, make "real Republicans" aware of the way to treat them" with tolerance and respect, hire field staff within each group, build a nationwide data base of leaders, promote staff and candidates within the Party, engage their faith-based communities, encourage individual Republicans to participate in cultural organizations "so that these organization's leadership is no longer dominated by Democrat-leaning individuals," and develop an extensive network of each group's political operatives.

If the commissioners seem to regard "non-Republicans" as a different species, they also appear to view social media, and communications technology in general, as some kind of incomprehensible alien language. [I must confess to feeling a certain sense of empathy with them about that, but I am fortunate to have many people in my life who can translate for me.] It is clear from the report that the authors attribute Obama's victory primarily to the Democrat's far greater savvy about communications technology and "grass roots" organizing. They passionately believe that it was the "media," and not the "message," that prevailed. For example, they make much of the fact that the Obama campaign asked voters what information they needed to make their decision and provided that knowledge to their volunteers, that Obama's media research and buying staff was 5 to 15 times larger than Romney's, and that campaign workers should be sure to include their contact's cell phone numbers and email addresses in their data bases. They also recommend that the R.N.C. "design, fund, and implement an aggressive early and absentee voting program, and that they should recruit and hire a chief technology and digital officer, as well as "train campaign managers and candidates in basic media terminology and media budgeting/management."  
Throughout, the report is a bewildering hodgepodge of  superficial technical jargon and business new speak.       

Although the "nuts and bolts" of the Autopsy's are too detailed to rehearse here, [You should read it for yourself.] it suffers from at least two major internal contradictions. One is its ambivalent attitude toward the relationship between the R.N. C. and state Republican parties, especially in the allocation of responsibility for implementing the recommendations of the report. It even admits that "the GOP today is a tale of two parties": a "gubernatorial wing" that is growing and successful, and the "federal wing," that is "increasingly marginalizing itself." It exults that Republicans holds almost as many governorships than it had during the glorious 1920s. [And just how did that turn out?]  It praises Republican governors as "reformers in chief," who "continue to deliver on conservative promises of reducing the size of government while making people's lives better," regularly "win a larger share of the minority vote than GOP presidential candidates," and "demonstrate an appeal that goes beyond the base of the Party." In all fairness, they make a sincere effort to beef up the role of state parties and to assign them specific tasks in "campaign mechanics," including candidate recruitment, voter contact and registration, vendor selection, polling, media buying and placement, fundraising, and finance. But, understandably, it also gives the R.N.C. ultimate oversight power in all of those areas, all but guaranteeing that considerable conflict will emerge in day to day operations. Exacerbating that tension is the fact that the members of the commission are, almost by definition, mainstream Republicans nervous about the Tea Party orientation of several state parties. They are obviously well aware that the seemingly endless debates and primaries of 2012 pushed Romney farther to the right than they wanted him to go, and drastically shortened his campaign time once he finally received the official nomination. Consequently, they strongly advocate reducing the number of debates and compressing the primary season to a few months early in the election year. By May, at the latest, they want an official Republican presidential candidate who can then try to heal the deep divisions and ruptures that the debates and primaries inevitably exacerbate. Republican Representatives and Senators are also concerned about being "primaried" by extremist candidates who accuse them of being too moderate and who are likely to lose in a general election.

Even more problematic are the report's recommendations for trying to maximize the party's appeal to racial and ethnic minorities, young people, and women. This seems to totally contradict the party's strategy in 2012, which was to disenfranchise as many of those same people as possible through requiring photo IDs, complicating the procedures for registration and voting, shortening the hours and moving the location of polling stations, gerrymandering districts, curtailing early and absentee voting, and various other devises, both legal and surreptitious. [See my post of September 27, 2012 and " The Truth About Voter Fraud" by the Brennan Center for Justice of the New York University School of Law.] Many of those laws are still on the books in various states;
and are only temporarily stayed by injunctions and other legal maneuvers. The most sweeping one of all is the case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court [Shelby County, Alabama v.Holder]  which would strike down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, thereby removing the requirement that several states infamous for their suppression of African American voters have to clear any changes in their electoral laws with the Department of Justice. Voter suppression is all part of their wider program to repeal all of the progressive gains of the past century, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as the Voting Rights Act itself. The ultra right wingers are also trying to get rid of all the regulatory and environment protection laws and leave most Americans to the tender mercies of "the Market," one that is almost completely manipulated by multinational corporations beyond the control of any national government.

So despite all the "mea culpas" and pledges to be more inclusive and more technologically savvy,  it is obvious that even the most moderate of Republicans still don't "Get It." And what is the "It" that they do not "Get"? We"ll give them a hint: It is not the "Media."